Thursday, March 21, 2024

In This Moment: 100 Days; Purim and Palm Sunday: Perfectly Paired; Latke v. Hamentashen Debate


Mazal tov to Joshua Friedman

who becomes Bar Mitzvah this Shabbat!

In This Moment

The Last Hundred Days

Friday marks exactly 100 days until my tenure as Beth El's senior rabbi ends, according to my day-counter. When a politician begins a term of office, the first hundred days are considered a landmark opportunity to get things done. Presidents are evaluated on the accomplishments of those first hundred days. In religion, however, change can be glacier-like (a metaphor that no longer works in these days of climate change). In the Catholic church, change is measured in centuries, not days. So we might as well forget the first hundred days. But what about the last hundred? What should a rabbi strive to accomplish during this time frame?

I gave some thought to my agenda for the last hundred days and here's what I came up with.

  • Presidential Pardons - People line up during the final days of a US president's term for pardons. In contrast, during my last hundred days I'm not expecting to grant them; perhaps to ask for a few. It should be a time when - as at the end of Yom Kippur - the gates are fully open, at least metaphorically, since my office is currently too much of a mess for many meetings to be held there. But certainly, anyone who wishes to clear the air about anything is most welcome to be in touch. Times a fleeting!

  • Laying the Groundwork - or not - for what's nextWhen new clergy come aboard, one of the cardinal rules is never to make big institutional changes for a considerable period of time. Some say six months; others six years. Those who go too fast almost always pay a steep price. The departing rabbi, especially one who has been there for a long time, who understands the culture and has gained the trust of the congregation, can make things easier for the successor by enacting new policies that otherwise might seem controversial. I'm not planning on any radical changes at this point, but we have made some over the past few years, especially with regards to the inclusion of interfaith families and LGBTQ. These will clear the way for an easier transition.

  • W.P.A. - No, not FDR's Works Progress Administration from the New Deal. His first hundred days are the standard from which all others are measured. For me, W.P.A. stands for Write about Past Activities. I've found myself looking back at my 37 years here in Stamford, and my 42 years of work as a pulpit rabbi, to track some of the societal changes that have impacted me as well as ways I might have made a mark. This is also a natural time to wonder what has become of the thousand b'nai mitzvah students I've worked with, the hundreds of couples I've married, or those who have become Jews by choice - people whose lives I may have touched, and who've definitely touched mine. So I'll continue to spend time over the next hundred days reflecting back and sharing some of those reflections, with you and with our local Jewish Historical Society.

  • Counting Blessings and cherishing each remaining day. I've tried to do that all my life. No reason to stop now!

  • Restore Israel's Security and nurture the hope for a better future for Israel and her neighbors. This is work that will continue long after I've left my position here. Rabbis never stop being rabbis and I will continue to engage.

  • Keep Trump Out of the White HouseEvery day I will wake up and ask myself, what can I do today to keep this most dangerous presidential candidate, the one who has the gall to tell me that I hate my religionaway from power.

That's enough to keep me plenty busy for these last hundred days. Plus, moving out and moving in. As you can see below, the bookshelves are starting to fill up in my study at my new home.

Click to read this week's piece on Purim and Palm Sunday. And don't forget to subscribe to my Substack page if you want to continue receiving my emails. After Pesach, In This Moment will no longer be sent out to the TBE email list. My weekly digest of Jewish ideas and information will switch over to Substack exclusively. Most of the content will remain free, though for-pay subscriptions will also be available. Don't miss a single issue! And tell your friends and relatives!

Recommended Reading


The Schumer/Netanyahu Thing

See video below: Israeli comedian Lior Schleien (their Jon Stewart) explaining why Israelis - including Likud supporters - are so frustrated at the prime minister right now. Subtitles by Daniel Gordis, who, as a center-right Israeli that typically has supported Netanyahu and completely supports the Just War in Gaza, has his pulse on the sense of betrayal Israelis feel. Most support the war, but they also want elections ASAP. And for good reason. The prime minister has zero credibility, and in order to fight, you need to believe what your leaders are saying.

As for the controversy over Schumer's calling for Israeli elections, Gordis writes: "No one here is taking kindly to Chuck Schumer’s telling us when we should have elections, but as for Bibi being the source of much of Israel’s trouble, that is no longer a very controversial assertion."

And that's the crux of the matter. American Jews are getting caught up in the political crossfire, with Democratic leaders trying to create arbitrary red lines and clumsily attack Israel because it's good politics (which in itself is noteworthy - since when is attacking Israel good politics? Since Bibi), and the leader of the G.O.P saying that Jews who vote Democratic should renounce their Judaism.

Meanwhile, Bibi threatens to go into Rafah but has no intention of doing so for a while. (See HaaretzWhy Rafah Has Become a Political Battleground Between the U.S. and Israel). Bottom line: There's no prospect of a Rafah operation before the late spring, at the soonest, so why is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu constantly talking it up, and why are U.S. President Joe Biden and other senior members of his administration serially warning against it?

In a statement last week, Netanyahu said that he had authorized plans for a Rafah attack. Ha'aretz points out that there were a number of false and misleading details in that statement. For one thing, Prime Ministers don't authorize military plans. Netanyahu is grandstanding to delay elections there and to influence them here.

And over here, Jewish organizations are rushing to take pro and anti-Schumer positions.

I was surprised that Schumer went as far as he did - he is by nature very cautious - and knew that mainstream Jewish organizations would rush to distance themselves from him. Listen to Lior Schleien and you'll understand why it hurts Israel for American Jewish to prop up this far right government and its leader right now, when a center-right broad coalition led by Gantz, Lapid or Bennett or just about anyone else would be far better able to safeguard Israel militarily and diplomatically - and democratically too. See below how. according to the Democracy Index. Israel is no longer considered a liberal democracy. Sen. Schumer, who loves Israel "in his bones," demonstrated that he understood the ultra high stakes of this moment.

Based on today's news, it seems like Senator Schumer is on board for a bipartisan invitation from Congress to the Israeli Prime Minister. I hope he leaves his props at home.

  • For 1st Time in 50 Years | Israel No Longer Considered Liberal Democracy; Global Index Cites Judicial Coup (Ha'aretz) As a result of the Israeli government's judicial overhaul and repeated attacks by ministers on the country's justice system, Israel has been downgraded from a "liberal democracy" to an "electoral democracy" by one of the world's most important indices for assessing the nature of a country's governmental system. For the last 50 years, Israel has been in the highest tier of the rankings, but as of this year's downgrade, Israel is now on an equal status with countries like Poland and Brazil. V-Dem is a leading international database for measuring the type of democracy found in over 200 countries. The database classifies countries into four categories: Closed autocracies, electoral autocracies, electoral democracies, and liberal democracies.

Latke Vs. Hamentashen Debate

Latke V. Hamentaschen Debate - There have been many great debates in world history: Lincoln vs. Douglas, the Scopes trial, and of course that all time classic, "tastes great" vs "less filling." Jews have been avid debate fans ever since Abraham took it to the limit with God over the future of Sodom. But no debate has stirred up Jewish passions over the years more than the one that we feature today: Latkes vs. Hamentaschen. And so it is only natural that this great debate has turned up online. Dozens of sites analyze this great match-up, giving it the hype it deserves. This is the Super Bowl of Kosher Culinary Combat. And for rabbis and academicians, this is the Super Bowl of "pilpul," the art of taking Talmudic logic to absurd extremes. I was all over this classic controversy in a Shabbat-O-Gram from 2001. Most of the links found there, alas, are no longer operational. See some background here. You can watch a classic rendering in the video above, from the University of Chicago, which has sponsored these debates for decades. Read coverage of that debate on NPR.

Since it's Purim, here are two pro-Hamentashen arguments, based on principles of halacha: A). You can only make 1 blessing on a Latke; while if you eat the dough and filling separately, you can make 2 blessings [Boray Minay M'zonot and BVoray P'ri Ha'etz] on a hamentash. We all know that 2 brachas are better than 1. B). The whole essence of the mitzvah of latkes is something secondary to the actual latke - namely the oil. Hamentaschen, on the other hand has its essence tied into the actual hamentash - not what it's cooked in! Also, by baking the hamentash with a little oil sprayed on the cookie sheet, you can even fulfill the mitzvah of Chanukah on Purim!

From the front page of today's Yediot. "Purim in Blue and White." These two young girls are dressed up as iron-sword warriors, in the spirit of the times. The current war is called "Operation Iron Sword." So art imitates life and there is no escaping reality, even behind the masks of Purim. On the other hand, even these young children jump at the chance to support their older cousins,, parents and siblings, who are off defending their country. Not much to smile about this Purim - but they are smiling nonetheless. And we are smiling more because of them!

Tomorrow's Front Pages

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The Jerusalem Post

Yediot Achronot

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